Why do moms get even scarier at the holidays?
We’re not in West Covina anymore. No, this week’s episode kicks off far from California — on a ship from Europe to America in 1901, to be exact. Rebecca’s ancestors — a mother and daughter — are on rocky waters both literally and figuratively. Mom’s giving 1901 Rebecca a hard time about just about everything, from her hair to her too-plump fingers. And most importantly, the mother is wearing a stunning ring. The daughter clearly longs for it — and for her mom’s approval.
Fast-forward 114 years and not much has changed for the Bunch family. Rebecca is in a panic prepping for a visit from her mother — which she thinks may include the hand-off of the aforementioned ring. The Garfinkel ring, a family heirloom, is typically gifted to each female family member on her 18th birthday, but Rebecca’s mother is obviously withholding. And Rebecca will have to play her cards right if she wants to secure the ring (and mom’s elusive affection).
Rebecca’s not the only resident of West Covina who has the holiday-season stresses. Josh has to work a double shift, thus missing all the fun of the West Covina Winter Wonderland, and Greg has to attend Christmas at his mom’s. As a reminder, his mother left him when he was young, and he never got over it, and now that she has a shiny new family, he really hates the woman. Ultimately, everyone is having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that they’re adults and that society expects them to behave as such.
To ready for her mom’s visit (she is, after all, what Paula calls a level-five mom pleaser), Rebecca swaps all her Christmas decorations for Hanukkah décor, and even puts on panty hose, but it’s still not enough to appease the woman herself. When Rebecca’s mom (played brilliantly by Tovah Feldshuh) finally arrives, she makes a grand musical entrance singing an ultra-critical hello to her daughter in the style of a Jewish folk song. In a single breath, she scolds Rebecca for not keeping a clean home, reprimands her for not wearing enough makeup, and asks three times if she’s gay.
Titled “Where’s the Bathroom,” the song is full of lyrical treats, this one being my favorite: “You call that a bathroom? That’s what passes for a bathroom? There were no bowls of rocks or any decorative soaps. You don’t even have a bathmat! Who doesn’t have a bathmat? If you need a bathmat I can — oh, did you hear? A bishop in Wisconsin said something anti-Semitic, so the temple has decided to boycott cheddar cheese.” Brilliant.
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Rebecca takes her mom to her office, which is immediately deemed so embarrassing and full of losers that Rebecca tells her mom she just volunteers there — to help “underprivileged lawyers” — and really works at a very observant Jewish law firm that is closed for Hanukkah. As proof, they have lunch with an executive, who’s really just Paula dressed as Mrs. Doubtfire, pretending to be a fancy Brit who just happens to be Jewish. Mom is all about British Jewish Paula, but the character is so over the top and ridiculous that Rebecca can’t help but roll her eyes. And Paula went with an insane portrayal on purpose, desperate to show Rebecca just how absurd it is to go to such lengths to please a woman who, at the end of the day, will never, ever be happy.
Greg, meanwhile, also never, ever seems to be happy. He’s still whining about having to spend the holidays with his evil mother when he runs into Rebecca’s neighbor, Heather. Heather loves a free meal and shamelessly invites herself to Greg’s family bash, and he jumps at the chance to have an outside party witness the terror that is his mother and his half-siblings. But the monster mom turns out to be a charming woman named Shauna who just about radiates warmth. This picture-perfect home comes complete with a picture-perfect family, and even Greg’s teenage half-siblings are lovely. Shauna and her husband even offer to help Greg pay for school should he want to go back, and his resentment and jealousy that have built up over the years somehow allow him to see even this kind offer as an insult.
NEXT: Never give your mom a rectal thermometer for Hanukkah